Jamie Schanbaum was enjoying the first semester at her dream university, making friends, learning about independence, when her world came crashing down. She contracted meningitis and lost her legs and fingers. In the midst of her journey, Schanbaum met some people who introduced her to cycling. She would later go on to compete in the 2011 Para Pan American games as a member of the US Paralympic Cycling team. In addition to cycling, Schanbaum can be found talking to groups about the importance of preventing meningitis. We talked with her about how she started cycling and why she is passionate about using her platform to educate others.
One in 10 people infected with meningitis B will die, while one in five survivors will suffer long-term disability, such as loss of limbs, brain damage, deafness and nervous system problems. There are five vaccine-preventable groups of meningitis—A, B, C, W, and Y—and two types of vaccines to help protect against these groups. While most young people (70 percent) have received the vaccine that helps protect against meningitis groups A, C, W and Y, less than 10 percent have received the vaccine to that helps prevent against meningitis B. Meningitis B causes approximately 30 percent of the cases of meningococcal disease in the U.S. (Center for Disease Control)
“so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” 1 Thessalonians 2:8
Schanbaum reflects on going from hanging on to her life to becoming a competitive cyclist.
“I was never on a cycling team or ever used the term cycling. I was more of a bike commuter. I lived one mile off campus. I used my bike everyday and my car only twice a month. When I was in the hospital, I didn’t really think about riding my bike. I thought more about, “How am I going to be social? How am I going to meet people?” I didn’t want people to be afraid of me. Picking up biking was never on my mind. However, when I got out [of the hospital], people – like my prosthetist, the person who makes my legs – said, “I have a bunch of other young clients who are amputees and ride bikes. Do you want to come with me? We can go biking.” Before I knew it, I was biking for the first time. Then about five bike rides later I was in the Livestrong challenge. It was very unsuspecting. Honestly, if I was by myself, I probably wouldn’t have found myself doing that. Even though I’ve always been athletic, I’ve never done marathons or races like that before. But what an experience it was. Just to cross that finish line really meant a lot to me. Two years prior, I was discussing that I might not live. To be in the Livestrong challenge and to accomplish that was wonderful. A couple of bike events later, I was discussing the adaptations for my bike because I don’t have fingers so how do I brake? My brakes are modified so they are flipped towards me versus the other side of the handlebars so I push them. The man I was talking with asked me that because he was the US Paralympic Cycling coach. Long story short, he invited me to the US National Championships and I won in my division and then I was invited to be a part of the US Paralympic Cycling team. I competed in 2011 in the Para Pan American Games in Guadalajara. In four events, I did not medal but I was on the team and made a lot of personal records. It was a wonderful experience.”
Schanbaum now uses her experience to share with others about preventing meningitis.
“I’m using my platform by just being honest. A lot of people don’t really know about meningitis and I didn’t know about meningitis. I knew it was something that could happen at a school or camp. But no one talked about how it could affect you or the 180 [degree turn] it could do to you. I’m using my platform for people to hear about meningitis. Even today, I will speak and the first thing I will ask is, “Who knows what meningitis is?” and barely anyone will raise their hand. It makes me feel good that I am there for a reason, at the same time I wish that more people knew. I’m using my platform to educate others on how dangerous meningitis is. I’m working together with GSK a research-based pharmaceutical and healthcare company on the “Take 5 Campaign,” which is #Take5forMeningitis. We are educating people how they can take five minutes to go to the meningitis.com and get educated about meningitis and how you can help protect yourself from catching it, through vaccination.
Use your platform. Pray and ask God to show you how to take your experiences to be a messenger of hope for Him. He wants to use your trials and triumphs for His glory. Take time this week to reflect. Write down what you have learned. Find Bible verses or examples from the Bible that encouraged you during that time. Whether it is one person or a large audience, you can be use what you learned to help others.
Invite others to be a part of your journey. Whether it is cycling, hiking or having a meal together, there are people all around us that need some encouragement. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you who you can invite. It might be a neighbor, friend at work or classmate. Invite them to be a part of an activity or event. Think back on the people that included or invited you throughout your life and take the opportunity to be that for someone else.
Share your faith with others. Whether it is a disease or natural disaster, tomorrow is not promised. God desires for everyone to have a relationship with Him through His son, Jesus Christ. If you are a believer, ask God to show who and how to share your faith with those around you. If you do not believe in God, consider asking God to reveal Himself to you.